Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this edition of the Independent Spotlight, we’re going to be shining our gaze on the Ian Black Band, an outfit whose debut release is titled ‘Take the Wheel.’ The endeavor is a hard-hitting jaunt through rock and roll that takes no prisoners. Citing influences like Eric Clapton, Rush, and Styx, the band fights a battle throughout to create fresh, contemporary sounds that also don’t fall victim to being derivative. At its best, it’s a classic-tinged explosion of enjoyable rock music. Let’s explore the album.
‘Take the Wheel’ opens up with ‘400 Lonely Roads,’ a track that offers up a mixed bag for the listener's consideration. The band is incredibly in-step with one another. The musical chemistry is there. The lyricism is good, too, even if it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. I must admit, though, the opening riff of the song is painfully yanked from ‘Layla.’ (Quite seriously, it’s the same riff, it just follows through its second half differently.)
‘City of Lies’ opens up a starkly different landscape for the Ian Black Band to occupy. The song opens with hauntingly beautiful sparsity, something that erupts into a fairly fresh and unique journey through driving riffs and intense soloing. ‘City of Lies’ effectively glosses over the (likely accidental) mishap of sampling ‘Layla’ a bit too heavily in the beginning of ‘400 Lonely Roads.’ I adore when the song changes tempo and masterfully builds into a raucous of exciting noise.
‘A Moment of Silence’ follows a similar formula to its predecessor, opening with a soft introduction that eventually expands into a louder exploration. The track’s lyricism is notably interesting, taking a unique spin on honoring veterans. (Something that’s often done with so little passion in rock and roll that it’s become an empty trope.) ‘A Moment of Silence’ is clearly heartfelt The track houses some of the finest guitar work on the album, too, with solos that are reminiscent of Neil Young’s Crazy Horse era style.
‘The Search Is On’ is a bit of a production hodgepodge for listeners on a quality stereo setup. The tune opens up with the vocals and instrumentation noticeably separated in the panning. Both are quite clear at this point, but once the mix moves toward the center, it gets muddy and muffled. The master’s volume is a bit erratic, and may prove problematic for earbud listeners.
Fortunately, that’s mostly an isolated incident and ‘Transcendental Dream’ is actually home to one of the most well-organized and executed productions on the album. Every piece of the mix is in perfect harmony. Even the strained lead vocals are surprisingly lovely. Brady Harris, the lead vocalist of the Ian Black Band, isn’t the strongest vocalist in the world. He falls in and out of tune, misses notes, and often struggles to find his key. To be blunt, this isn’t an issue most of the time. So does Neil Young, who I referenced fondly above. When a song like ‘Transcendental Dream’ is executed the way it is, it makes those less-than-American Idol vocals passionately unique.
‘Why Do Doves Cry?’ struggles to find a groove that really works for it, which is unfortunate, because the lyrical hook is an interesting one. It’s a nicely performed song, though. ‘Inhale,’ however, is a song that should have been left off the album. Again, the pan of the mix is very peculiar - acoustic guitar plods in and out of the right side while percussion meanders on the left. The vocals awkwardly occupy the middle in a far too reverberated style, as if Harris is yelling from the opposite side of a locker room at the YMCA.
The closing track, which is also the title tune, is a stunning finale, one that executes string sections beautifully. All of the mixing, panning, and instrumental issues of songs like ‘Inhale’ are non-existent, which makes the song a perfect closer. If the whole album was mixed like ‘Take the Wheel,’ the effort would be a more a concrete one.
That leads me to my final musings. Is ‘Take the Wheel’ a strong album as a whole? For the most part, yes. It has a lot of character and the impassioned performances often make up for occasional strained vocals and poor production. Certain tracks, however, are subdued heavily by those issues. (In particular, ‘The Search Is On,’ ‘Why Do Doves Cry?’ and ‘Inhale.’) If this was a five song EP without those three, it would be a golden effort. It’s still a good endeavor regardless, though. Explore it for yourself on CD Baby below!